Lies From The Sky: The Canadian International Air Show As A Tool Of Propaganda

By Mark Leith, World BEYOND War Canada, October 19, 2023

Edward Bernays was the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, the creator of the field of psychoanalysis. Freud’s theories are deeply rooted in attributing the role of primate instincts and emotions to human motivations in terms of their impact on human logic and behaviour.

Bernays has been credited as the ‘Father of Public Relations’. He is, perhaps, one of the least recognized cultural influencers of the twentieth century. His most well-known book is entitled ‘Propaganda’ ( in which he outlines his views of the need for societies’ elites to manipulate the masses through public relations techniques for the betterment of these societies.

Bernays used his famous uncle’s psychoanalysis theories to make a small fortune for himself as a public relations consultant to industry and government. He was ingenious at developing advertising campaigns to meet the marketing goals of his clients.

Two of his most renowned campaigns are the marketing of women smoking in public on behalf of his client the American Tobacco Company, in the nineteen twenties, which he entitled ‘Torches of Freedom’. The other was to engineer a coup of the new government of Guatemala by the United States on behalf of his client the United Fruit Company, now named the Chiquita Brands International since the 1940’s.

The goal of the ‘Torches of Freedom’ campaign was to increase his client’s market share of women smokers by breaking the social taboo of women smoking in public. Bernays staged an Easter parade in which women emerged from churches with cigarettes alit to join in the parade. Bernays had consulted a psychoanalyst who reported to him that cigarettes represented “torches of freedom” for women whose feminine desires were increasingly suppressed by their role in the modern world. The march went as planned, as did the ensuing publicity, with ripples of women smoking prominently across the country.

In terms of his work concerning his client the Untied Fruit Company in Guatemala, the crisis was precepted by the expropriation of the United Fruit Company’s banana fields by a new Guatemala president, thus threatening the company’s financial interests.

Working through journalists and congressmen Bernays was able to successfully engineer a coup of the new Guatemala president through the efforts of the CIA in an attempt to restore his client’s investment by portraying the new Guatemala government as a ‘Communist Menace’.

Public Relations is a culturally mediated industry and therefore as such one of its techniques is the telling of stories. In these two examples, Bernays uses the technique of ensuring that these are stories with happy endings. In ‘Torches of Freedom’ the now publicly emancipated women have gained a greater degree of freedom. In the Guatemala campaign the honourable American banana companies’ rightful property is restored from the thieving ‘Communist Menace’.

The Canadian International Air Show also in turn has created the story that it tells. It is the story of happy families gathering around the lakeside together year after year to enjoy a very exciting yet harmless spectacle of airplanes playing in the afternoon sky of a bucolic September afternoon. In this story there is a particular emphasis on how long this tradition has been going on for and how central it is to family life. These emphases speak to the values of permanence and community.

But those who do not want to live within this story, enjoying together the daredevil feats of the handsome young fool-hardy brave pilots of our courageous American and Canadian air forces are not welcome at the lakeside. Those that would carry placards and shout objections to this well-meaning spectacle serve only to show a lack of good, spirited patriotism inherent in this lakeside story.

The environmental and peace movements have a different story to tell.  Theirs is not a happy one.  It is a story of annihilating destruction. Of toxic pollution. Of depletion of resources. But fundamentally it is a story of planet destroying greed. The greed that drives the fossil fuel industry and the greed on which the military-industrial complex feeds.

As the environmental and peace movements challenge the lie that is the CNE Canadian International Air Show story the show’s sponsors will stick to their version. They will say that they are only wanting to make Canada a safer place for all Canadians, and that it has nothing to do whatsoever to do with the worlds of profit and money.


Mark Leith is a retired psychiatrist and a past national board member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Canada and a SCAN member and a member of the Culture and Innovative Tactics committee and Education committee.




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